COVID-19's place in American history of wars, tragedies and innovations

Graeme BruceBusiness Data Journalist
September 28, 2020, 12:34 PM GMT+0

COVID-19 has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, upended the economy, and has forever changed how we work, communicate and socialize. As the coronavirus pandemic rages, a recent YouGov survey sheds light on how much of an impact Americans think the virus will have on the life and culture of their country compared to some of the biggest wars, technological advancements and national tragedies since the Second World War.

Between September 3 and 4, 2020, more than 1,000 Americans were presented with a random of set seven historically significant events and were asked if the pandemic will have more or less of a lasting impact on life and culture.

Perhaps most notably, Americans are split on whether the pandemic is more impactful or less impactful than the 9/11 terror attacks. Roughly a third (35%) say the events that claimed the lives of 2,977 people will have had more of an impact than the current pandemic, while 34 percent say the pandemic will be more impactful to life and culture of the United States.

Americans are also split on whether the advent of 24-hour news is more or less impactful (34% say more, 34% say less).

COVID more consequential than tragedies and political scandals

The current pandemic will have more of a lasting impact on American life and culture than tragedies that shook the nationevents such as Hurricane Katrina, the Columbine High School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing – according to a plurality of Americans.

COVID-19 will also be more influential on society than the biggest post-war political scandals, such as Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon as well as the impeachments of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. The pandemic will also be more impactful on American life than the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

America’s war against COVID-19 will go down in the history books as more impactful to American life than the Korean War, the Iraq War, the invasion of Afghanistan and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. However, The Cold War and the Vietnam War will remain pivotal events in the American consciousness, the data suggests.

Tech innovations, supreme court rulings will have more lasting impact than COVID-19

Americans believe some of the biggest social-equality and technological leaps of the last 70 years are still more significant to American history.

By significant margins, Americans say recent communication inventions like the internet, Google search, the smartphone, and social media will all leave more lasting marks on American society compared to COVID-19. More Americans also believe the moon landing is more significant than the 2020 pandemic.

Landmark supreme court rulings such as Roe v. Wade (which protects abortion rights) and Obergefell v. Hodges (which protects same-sex marriage) are also more consequential than the virus, Americans say.

When it comes to advancements in medicine, some are more significant to the American public than others. The current outbreak is more historically significant than civilian use of the flu vaccine and the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, but less significant than the polio vaccine and the invention of birth control.

As for other public health crises the United States has faced, COVID-19 is more impactful than Ebola, Swine Flu, and the AIDS epidemic.

Methodology: The survey consisted of 1,346 panelists and ran between September 3 – 4, 2020. Every person was randomly assigned to see seven historical events. For each, respondents were asked: “Thinking about COVID-19 historically, do you believe the pandemic will have more or less of a lasting impact on life and culture in the United States than …" and were shown one of the seven random events. For more information, reach out to

Images: Getty

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